Damiani still believes that Cuengo can be a Grand Tour contender
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Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Damiani still believes that Cuengo can be a Grand Tour contender

by Conal Andrews at 5:06 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling
 
Future directeur sportif has faith in 2004 Giro champion

Damiano CuengoAlthough Damiano Cunego’s performances since winning the 2004 Giro d’Italia haven’t been on anything like the same level in a three week race, future Lampre-ISD directeur sportif Roberto Damiani believes that the Italian can achieve big things in a Grand Tour.

Cunego has had a love-hate relationship with the longer stage races, putting his hopes on strong performances but generally showing a lack of consistency for the overall classification. That 2004 victory saw him win the Giro and take four stage wins; the following year, he was 18th in the race, but he then recovered somewhat in 2006 to net fourth overall. He made his Tour de France that year and finished eleventh, netting second behind Frank Schleck on Alpe d’Huez and taking the white jersey as best young rider.

In 2007 he took fifth in the Giro; two years later he was 18th, while this season he was 11th in Italy and a distant 29th in France. The best Grand Tour showing in recent years has been two stage wins in the 2009 Vuelta a España.

Yet Damiani doesn’t want to write him off. “Cunego is still a man of the Grand Tours,” he insisted to l’Arena, disputing the idea that he could no longer contend for the overall classification. “The victory of 2004 can be analysed in a thousand ways, but successive classifications confirm the idea of a departure. [However] I am convinced Damiano can win a large stage race once again, but he will need to do specific work such as, for example, for time trials.”

In recent years, he has fared better in the Classics and shorter stage races. Cunego won the Giro di Lombardia in 2004, 2007 and 2008, and took the Amstel Gold race two years ago. He has also picked up three overall wins in the Giro del Trentino and two in the Settimana Coppi e Bartali.

The overall picture is of an explosive rider and solid climber who no longer has the day to day recovery to challenge for the overall in a three week race. Cunego has himself admitted this is the case, yet Damiani still has faith.

The directeur is currently an employee of the Omega Pharma-Lotto squad. He’s started doing some work with the Lampre-ISD team but some complications with his contract mean that he must continue until at least Milan-Sanremo with Omega Pharma Lotto. After that, he’ll see if he can fully transfer across, and work more closely with Cunego.

It’s likely that he will try to get him to once again think of races like the Italian tour. “The first impression is that Damiano is still madly in love with the Tour of Italy,” he said. “He is still seeking thrills experienced in 2004. Until April 24, it is good put some thoughts aside.”

Cuengo will try to win Liège-Bastogne-Liège on that date. After that, Damiani intends to sit down with him and plan things, determining if it is possible to aim for another Grand Tour.

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